Health disparities expert is continuing her work to help ensure all Pennsylvanians have equal access to health care, including the COVID-19 vaccine
By Katie Neitz
Khadijah Mitchell, Peter C.S. d’Aubermont, M.D., Scholar of Health and Life Sciences and assistant professor of biology, is continuing her work to help eliminate health disparities and ensure that all Pennsylvanians have equal access to health care, including the COVID-19 vaccine.
Mitchell has been asked by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to serve on a new COVID-19 vaccine joint task force, which has the goal of sharing information and communicating issues and solutions to the two branches of state government to improve the state’s vaccine rollout.
The new task force includes four subcommittees; Mitchell will serve on the racial equity subcommittee, where her work will be focused on racial and ethnic minority populations and exploring barriers and providing solutions to ensure that officials are making decisions with the specific needs of these groups in mind.
Mitchell’s new role builds on the work she did in 2020 with the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH). In 2020, she started co-leading a task force committee for the PA DOH aimed at mitigating the impact of COVID-19 among racial and ethnic minority groups. The group’s recommendations have been approved by the PA DOH Office of Health Equity, and as of March 2021, were awaiting final sign off by Wolf.
“There are many African Americans who have had negative experiences with the U.S. health care system and have a lot of medical mistrust,” she says. “I’m trying to provide the education and tools so Black patients can feel like mini-experts and empower themselves during patient-provider interactions. This is known to promote trust building.”
The task force implemented faith-based and community-based COVID-19 testing and educational programming about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines at historically Black churches and mosques around the state. They have established a speakers bureau, featuring diverse experts who educate the public, as well as listening sessions in which government and industry officials will invite the public to share feedback and concerns.
Mitchell’s task force was successful in assembling and distributing over 6,000 COVID-19 “care packages,” containing useful supplies, like masks, hand sanitizer, a digital thermometer, and hand wipes, to racial and ethnic minority groups in 87 cities across the state.
Mitchell was tapped for these roles because of her extensive experience researching health disparities and her passion for serving the community as a public health advocate.
Mitchell has spent most of her career investigating why African Americans have higher incidences of lung cancer compared to European Americans. In recent years, she expanded her research to study kidney cancer, for which she received a $75,000 grant in 2019 from the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs.